THE recent report by Amnesty International (AI) states that torture of suspected criminals by police continues to thrive in the Philippines.
According to AI Secretary General Salil Shetty, dozens of beatings, rapes and electrocutions have been recorded by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). Members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) are suspects. Many cases go unreported.
“Torture by the police is very widespread and routine,” Shetty said in an Agence France-Presse report. Shetty said ending torture could be a “very important legacy” for Aquino, whose six-year term will end in 2016, but he accused the president of not doing enough to reform the police force.
“If you don’t acknowledge the problem, there can be no solution,” Shetty said.
And it looks like President Aquino is indeed turning a blind eye to reports that the PNP seems to have institutionalized torture as a method to deal with suspects of crime.
Quoting data from the CHR, Amnesty International said 457 torture cases were reported from 2001 to the middle of this year. The total of 75 cases recorded in 2013 was the highest in a single year.
The Philippines passed a landmark anti-torture law during former president Gloria Arroyo’s administration. But Shetty said there have been no convictions up to now under that law and this encourages bad policemen to carry out torture without fear of reprisal.
Shetty added the low salaries of members of the PNP contributed to the problem, with police officers torturing to extract confessions and improve their efficiency record or extort money from victims.
AI has recommended establishing a body independent of the police to handle reports of torture. The current system where the police investigates its members does not make sense.
And it looks like the Aquino administration is not interested in addressing the issue of police torture, because the president, and the heads of the PNP and the Department of Interior and Local Government have not responded to Amnesty International’s request for a dialogue to discuss the report. “Looking the other way will not help,” he said.
Asked to comment on Amnesty’s findings, President Aquino’s spokesman, Herminio Coloma, said: “The government is pursuing its efforts to prosecute those violating the anti-torture law.” The national police brass also issued a statement contradicting AI’s findings, insisting major reforms on human rights have been successfully implemented.
Amnesty International’s findings on police torture are alarming. They show that despite the restoration of democracy in 1986, which saw the rise of President BS Aquino’s mother Corazon to the presidency, succeeding administrations and including the present one, have failed to meaningfully reform the country’s police force in respect of torture.
Philippine security forces gained notoriety for torture and other human rights violations during the two-decade reign of dictator Ferdinand Marcos. While Marcos is being blamed for numerous cases of human rights violations by the police, two infamous massacres happened after the downfall of the dictator. In these massacres, human rights activists see the Aquino clan’s involvement.
On January 22, 1987 when Mrs. Cory Aquino was president, at Mendiola bridge leading to Malacañang, 13 protestors were killed when a combined force of Marines and anti-riot policemen opened fire at protestors demanding land and agrarian reform. No one was charged over the shooting despite the formation of an investigative commission.
Then on November 16, 2004, 12 farmers and two children were killed and hundreds were injured when police and soldiers stormed a farm workers’ demonstration against the owners and management of the Aquinos’ Hacienda Luisita. Some victims’ families claim that President BS Aquino triggered the massacre because it was he who urged the Labor secretary at the time to send government security forces to quell the striking farmers and workers.
We hope that, contrary to the claims of many human rights activists, President BS Aquino is not totally insensitive to this issue and that the AI report at least pricks his conscience.